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American Figure Skating Championships


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I just read that ESPN-2 will be showing the American Figure Skating Championships starting Thursday.

It's been a long time since I paid much attention to figure skating. I dropped out largely due to aesthetic issues at a time when all the emphasis seemed to be on increasing the difficulty of turns, jumps, etc., and pump-and-grunt seemed to be the main artistic style, at least as far as I could see.

I know there are knowledgeable fans of figure skating here on Ballet Talk. And there must be lots of us who would like an introduction.

Can anyone give me (us?) an idea of what to look for in this competition? I'm thinking especially about skaters you admire and something about the aesthetic issues involved.

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This year is the first year that the NJS (New Judging System, which is universally known by it's test name, "CoP") will be used at US Nationals. The USFS (governing body of figure skating in the US) had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using it. The top competitors have been designing programs around it for international competitions, and chances are that almost all of the programs that will be televised will be influenced by CoP. What this means in terms of aesthetics are more complex spins, which will include changes of edge, multiple positions, and lots of legs overhead among the ladies; lots of turns and steps in the step sequences, which used to be pretty bare; and extended spirals. Whether they are in time and tune with the music depends on the skaters. The days of the single-position layback spin in attitude and scratch spins are gone from eligible skating, but can be found in Stars on Ice.

Each of the disciplines is going to be tense, because spots to the Olympics are on the line. The most complicated will be Ladies. Michelle Kwan has requested a bye; she will be tested by USFS doctors before the Ladies team is announced on 14 January. The only skater/team who is guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team is the highest-placed eligible one, based on age, citizenship, and whether the skater/team is a member of USFS. After that, the USFS gets to decide if byes will be granted and to choose the team, taking the results from current Nationals and five competitions in 2005 into consideration. Even if Kwan receives a bye, the alternate could end up skating, if Kwan isn't completely ready for Torino.

Among the Ladies, the title is considered by most to be Sasha Cohen's to lose. She's kept her short program (SP) to "Dark Eyes," from last year, and has recently worked with choreographer David Wilson to improve her Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet long program (LP). She has some technical flaws, including a "flutz", which is a lutz taken off from the inside (flip) edge, and her edges aren't always deep. This doesn't seem to be reflected in either her technical scores (TES) or skating skills scores. She has excellent extension on her spirals and spins, and, generally, quite beautiful and clean positions in her spins. She also knows how to present a program.

Alissa Czisny struggled in past years with her jumps and nerves. This year, she switched to the new hinged boots, and as a last-minute substitute in Skate America, she took home silver and won the LP. The next week, in a similarly weakish field, she won Skate Canada. Nerves seemed to have gotten the better of her at Grand Prix Final, where she came in last (6th) with a weak performance. She has excellent spins, and deep edges and great extension on her spirals. She's one of the faster US women. I believe her SP is a Latin number, and her LP is to music from La Bayadere.

Kimmy Meissner has been hyped as the Next One since last year's Nationals, where she landed a triple Axel in the warm-up, and an underrotated attempt in the competition. She won bronze, but was too young to compete at Senior Worlds. ESPN brought her to Moscow, where she did some commentating and a lot of fluff pieces. She faltered a bit during 2005 Junior Worlds in Kitchener, where she came in 4th behind Emily Hughes, who placed a surprise 3rd. Her SP is to Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances," and her LP is to "Queen of Sheba." While she had problems this year with underrotation on a few combinations, her skating tends to be clean and very plain. I mean this in a good sense. She had two 5th place finishes in Grand Prix events this year -- in stronger fields than Czisny has -- which was very respectable for a first year Senior skater.

Two skaters who could be competitive for top spots are Bebe Liang and Emily Hughes. Hughes had meningitis early in the season, and didn't hit her stride during the Grand Prix season. She make come out fighting at Nationals. Her technique is, in many ways, stronger than her sister Sarah's; she does a clean lutz instead of a flutz, and has better overall jump technique. She seems a bit heavier on her feet; she's more muscular than any of the front-runners, and being ill didn't help. I think her skating has a lot of strength to it, and I like watching proper technique. Her SP is to music by Gershwin, and her LP is to Glazunov's "Seasons."

Liang was sidelined for quite a while with a sore hip caused by a growth spurt. When she came back, she was more muscular, which means a lot more work in creating line. Last year at Nationals, she was stymied by the jumps that put pressure on her hip. Had the competition been scored with CoP, she might have gotten her due, which was 4th place and a trip to Moscow. Her programs by last year by Sarah Kawahara were superb; I'm not sure if she's kept either of them this season. She's quick, powerful, and is extremely accomplished.

Dark horses include Katy Taylor, Danielle Kahle, and, possibly Erica Archambault. I don't think any of the other US Ladies have the technical content to be competitive at the highest levels.

Among the Men, Johnny Weir is considered the top contender, but not a shoe-in to repeat his title. He has a beautiful, lyrical style, and some of the finest jumping technique in Men's skating when he's on and focused. He had a very hard year after skating injured at Moscow, including another injury, a program change in his LP, and pressure to alter the programs choreographed by his mentor Tatiana Tarasova in order to increase levels. His SP to "The Swan" is really beautiful. For the LP he chose pieces by the Russian composer Maksim Mrvica, the last of which Irina Slutskaya used in her LP from last year. If his jumps are on, his technique is impeccable and they sing, and he doesn't have a weakness.

Evan Lysacek is considered the most likely challenger for the title, having beaten an injured Weir in Moscow and earned a bronze medal there. He's very tall, and he uses his long legs to great effect. He's got a theatrical streak, which he displays in his Latin programs. This year, his SP is to "Vamos a Bailar", and his LP is "Carmen," to excerpts from the Suite by Shchedrin. He's an excellent all-around skater, too.

There are three men who are dark horses to win the title. Michael Weiss has two excellent programs, a SP to music from Semiramide and "La Donna e Mobile", and a LP to selections from Beethoven's 6th and 9th Symphonies and the Moonlight Sonata. He has some of the best basic skating skills I've seen in the last five years, which isn't always obvious from television, but his jumping technique isn't always clean, and at Trophee Eric Bompard, he looked deflated after several mistakes. Timothy Goebel lost his trademark quadruple jumps last year, and it's been a struggle for him since. While he's tried to fix the posture in his spins, he has the weakest form among the Men. His SP is to "Sing, Sing, Sing," and his LP to "Night on a Bald Mountain." In his ISU biography, Lori Nichol is listed as his choreographer, but he said in an interview that Tarasova choreographed his LP, which I love: it's quirky and witty, and it has some fantastic footwork. Last, and I'm afraid from the judges' point of view, least, is Matthew Savoie, who gets zero respect. Partway through the season, he scrapped his SP to "Windmills of Your Mind," and brought back his Barber's "Adagio" SP from last year, which, in my opinion, was the highlight of last year' Nationals. His programs, which are choregraphed by Tom Dickson, are full of difficult and unusual transitions, and are extremely musical.

Long shots for the podium are Shaun Rogers, Ryan Jahnke, and Parker Pennington. Plus Rohene Ward, a gorgeous skater whose jumps have abandoned him at prior years' qualifiers and last year's Nationals.

Among the pairs, Inoue/Baldwin are the closest thing to a lock. While there are other women in pairs skating who are her equals, I don't think there's anyone better in eligible competition. They are planning to try a throw triple axel, which has never been landed in pairs, and side-by-side triple lutzes, which may have been ratified once or twice before. Their SP is to Albinoni's "Adagio," and their LP to music by Shostakovitch, with a piece I don't recognize sandwiched between the 5th Symphony.

The fight for silver and the other Olympic spot -- the US has two -- is likely to be between Orscher/Lucash, who have struggled this year with injuries, and Hinzmann/Parchem, who were 3rd at last year's Nationals. Their SP is to "The Mission" soundtrack, and their LP is to selections by M. Rodriguez, including "Once Upon A Time in Mexico." This is their second year together, and they are really fine considering how short a time they've been together. Their choreographer is Parchem's wife, Zuzanna Szwed, who does lovely work for the pair.

Dark horses are Evora/Ladwig, who were very impressive last year -- I thought they deserved bronze -- and Castile/Okolski, who are remarkably mature for a young pair. Vise/Kole are also a very nice young pair, but they skate like a young team, albeit on their way up.

Now that Belbin is a US citizen, conventional wisdom is that they and Gregory/Petukhov are a lock for gold and silver. Agosto, though, had a groin injury which caused Belbin/Agosto to pull out of NHK Trophy. They've only competed twice so far this year, once beating Drobiazko/Vanagas, who are returning to eligible competition for European Championships and Olympic bids, and winning Skate America. Their Free Dance is, if I remember correctly, a Flamenco program. They are fast, with intricate step sequences and lifts.

Gregory/Petukhov's free dance is to Romeo and Juliet, Prokofiev's version. It's very lyrical, and they've performed it beautifully this year. Her line may be better than Belbin's, but they don't have the speed or difficulty that Belbin/Agosto do.

Expected to duke it out for the last Olympic spot are Junior World Champions Matthews/Zavozin and Silverstein/O'Meara. Silverstein is back after taking several years off; with former partner Pekarek, she placed 12th at her first Senior Worlds. O'Meara was last year's bronze medallist with former partner Lydia Manon. They are amazing for a first year team, even counting in their experience. She has, by far, the finest form and line of the US women. They perform a tango as their free dance. Matthews/Zavozin are eligible because Zavozin became a citizen by the same legislation that Belbin did. They have the advantage of exposure to international judges, tremendous energy, experience with CoP as Juniors, and longevity as a couple. Their free dance is to "Tango de Roxane" from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. Not only is it a great program, but they have the ability to skate it brilliantly. I think this is going to be an amazing contest.

I don't think anyone can break into the top four, but long shots are Navarro/Bommentre. I think they have a chance of beating Galler-Rabinowitz/Mitchell. Stiegler/Magerovski, who made a splash last year, probably don't have much of a chance this year. The Compulsory Dance this year for Nationals is Yankee Polka, which is generally considered a horrible and difficult dance for tall skaters, particularly the men, and it is possible to get mired badly in the standings after the CD.

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Helene, thank you so much. The change in aesthetic standards sound rather major.

Your description of Matthew Savoie ("full of difficult and unusual transitions, ... extremely musical") makes me anxious to see his programs. It must be very frustrating when the judges apparently do not resect or reward this approach.

Am I right in presuming that the new aesthetic standards are designed to promote a smoothness and continuity of line and motion, with less visible preparation for the difficult jumps, etc.? If so, it sounds like a huge and welcome change. What is your opinion?

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:beg: I hope Johnny Weir is completely healthy for the Nationals. What a special skater is he! Profoundly musical, with great attention to stylistic details. I expect his presence will gain substance as he matures. Like Scott Hamilton at that age, he is a little "flitty." but his personaliaty is not likely to take on the kind of humor that later distinguished Hamilton. That was a unique gift.
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Thank you so much for your description of our top U.S. skaters. I just finished watching the men's LP and was absolutely thrilled that Matt Savoie made the third spot. His skating is incredibly musical and heart-felt, so humble in its brilliance. I actually enjoyed Michael Weiss's LP and thought his skating so much more artistically clear and polished than the rest. Just glad to see Savoie represent us in the Olympics this time.

His skating may be too quiet for some, but it made my heart sing!

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Matt Savoie won my soul. The music he chose, how his body, even his face, sung to it, the reverie he placed me in...I was swept away. I say this despite all the angles, the elbows, the sometimes pointiness of his upper appendages as he skated. Normally, I prefer the upper body maintaining more of a line throughout, ala Weir, for example. But it works for Savoie, works beautifully. His program was richly complete, a fully musical interpretation. Savoie reminds me of Toller Cranston, not in his style which is not at all alike but in his individuality, in his soul. It's so rare to find in these days, in any day, yet it's what I live for.

I was disappointed in Weir. I confess I haven't been able to watch figure skating much at all the last two years so I'm not familiar enough with his history. I agree with Button's comments about his uninspiring music. He has a beautiful line but I felt like there was way too much dead time, in the first part of his program especially, unlike Savoie's program which sung all the way through. One of the commentator's remarks, "drama and poise" re Lysacek's program which also included that dead time, is apt here.

This is my first look at Lysacek. I love his possibilities, love his dashing spirit, his upper body. I realized that he, Weir, and Weiss all use their backs very well along with their shoulders in their carriage. It makes such a difference. I don't know if that is also true of Savoie because his choreography was different enough to not give me a chance to notice. But I wish that Lysacek's program, as with Weir's, didn't include so much uninteresting stroking around prior to jumping. Savoie showed it doesn't have to be like that. In her best days, so did Kwan.

For many years I've delighted in watching Weiss develop. Early on, in his junior years, I was most definitely not a fan of his so I'm happy to have my opinion so completely changed. There's so much to love about him. I feel sorry, indeed, if the standings hold towards the Olympic berths but then I am utterly delighted that Savoie will likely be going. I just wish it weren't at Weiss's expense.

Helene, I too want to thank you for taking the time to give us such a complete history of these skaters. It prepared me very nicely so I do appreciate your taking what must have been considerable time to educate us. :beg:

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I never warmed to Michael Weiss. But I completely agree with your assessment of Savoie's skate this afternoon. Was it the performance of his life?*

Also, while I suspect Weir's pounding music was chosen in an effort to pump him up, all that energy seemed to go nowhere. And I don't think he felt a natural connection to it. But the "flittiness" does seem to be diminishing. :beg:

If all goes according to how things look now, we can be very proud of our men's skating delegation to the Olympics! :(

*Shown in an interview during the evening broadcast, Savoie indicated without any doubt, that it was.

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I haven't been able to watch the men's LP that I taped yesterday, but I did stay up to watch the women's. I was so heartened by Cohen's ability to pull it back together after bobbling those two triples. in LPs past, I think that would have been it for her concentration. and I agree with the commentators -- that is a potentially gold-medal-winning LP routine. And she struck me as the only truly world-class women's contender from the US.

So what is the deal, though, with the ongoing problems that skaters/coaches have in picking good music?! There is so much good, no, great music out there, and it makes ALL the difference with these routines, but every year, it seems like the majority of competitors have picked lousy music. And then who are these so-called choreographers who seem incapable of matching movement to music? And why are they being paid money?

And, finally, snaps up to Stephanie Rosenthal. It tweren't necessarily pretty but it was intelligent and it was choreographed to her music. She won me over by the end.

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I adored Rosenthal's program. Her Andean (?) music is perfect for a skating performance. It's driving, maintaining a certain amount of tension all the way through that propels a skater. I loved it that Rosenthal didn't skate a feminine routine. It's so nice to see a woman skate from her heart without it having to come from just one place in her heart. Women figure skaters are always supposed to perform prettiness; Rosenthal showed that a woman can do something else and it can be interesting - no, more than that, it can be ENERGIZING - to an audience, it can be thrilling and imaginative. Men have always had that possibility as an option to playing the macho personality; I'm so delighted to see a woman show us the possibilities for her sex as well.

Kimmie Meissner was adorable! I'd never seen her skate before. There's lots to like and I do hope that she continues to improve. A little footnote here is that I think her costume was by far the most attractive of the night. That design in the waist area is a winner. So is the red. But in fact, just about ALL the costumes were really lovely. I don't usually say that.

Emily Hughes: Well, I guess I've discovered that I'm not a Hughes family fan. What I DO like, a lot, is their energy. Emily has her sister's joie de vive on the ice. Actually, she surpasses her sister's energy level. And I like her skating even more than I ever liked her sister's (who, by the way, I thought deserved that Olympic gold because she DID skate the best on that given day when the better skaters didn't produce). Emily's skating has a wider range than her sister's, I think, another point in her favor. What she also shares, though, and it's what makes me an indifferent observer, are the hunched up shoulders, especially in her jumps, and an overall awkward look to her upper body. There's something about how she uses her arms and shoulders - I think it's more likely a case of not using her back muscles to support her arms but I'm not sure. Both Hughes dancers seem to have that awkwardness, and, to my humble taste, it's a big negative.

Liang: What a disappointment! She's a skater that I HAVE seen several times in the past and I've hoped for great things from her. Her music, especially the first half, had great drive and tension in it, and Liang responded well to it. But once she fell the first time, she crumbled, lost heart, and that was it for the rest of the way. What a shame.

Ditto for Czisny, a very lovely skater. I was so sorry to see that she, along with Liang, just doesn't seem to have the inner resources to manage a high-tension event.

Speaking of lacking such inner resources, I've saved Sasha Cohen for last. :wink: For her, it was an inspired performance despite her being sick all week. How I wish she'd nailed all her jumps though. I have only seen her complete a flawless performance once, in a Grand Prix event. It seems that she jinxes herself time and again. Hard to know if this time was due to her illness or just yet another similar event. And so it makes me wonder, What if Michelle Kwan HAD been there? Would Cohen then, after the first de rigeur fall, have lost her heart? I hate to say it, but I think so.

For all that, I'm a huge fan of Sasha Cohen's skating despite her disappointing me time and again. She's the Chicago Cubs of the figure skating world :grinning-smiley-001: , destined to disappoint time and again, but I keep coming back for more. I adore her Gumbie doll qualities, her passion, her clean lines, her "to die for" spirals, her music choices, costumes, her musicality, her overall classicism, etc. She exudes a ballet ethic (wasn't her mom a ballerina?) and of course I'm attracted to that. When she's on, she has those delicious speedy corkscrews in her jumps - she goes up and then poof! before you know it, she's completed the three revolutions - and back down. Each part - the going up, revolving, and coming down - are superbly distinct from one another, and oh, that straight controlled back leg and perfect upper body on the landings! - I LOVE that and rarely see it in a skater.

I believe she is currently the most interesting female figure skater (hmm, but then Rosenthal's performance comes to mind) -with the greatest raw talent around - and so I continue to root for her and wish that she can find a way to subdue her nerves.

And then there's Kwan: well, she USED to be the most interesting female figure skater - what artistry! - but she disappointed me the last couple times I saw her skate because she hadn't been able to keep up with the new requirements. I hope it's true that she's put together a performance that meets those standards. If so, then she's the skater to beat. Kwan's skating, even when she was a 13 year old, has always exuded a maturity beyond her years. As an adult, she's so often presented a work of art on ice that it's something I think we've all come to simply expect. I fear though that injuries and the newer jumping demands, may mean that her time is past. I hope it's not true.

Kwan has her "bye" for the Olympic berth, the right decision, I think, especially since it's still contingent on her proving, on Jan. 27, that she can skate both her short and her long performances at Olympic-level quality. I don't think that Hughes, Liang, or Czisny have the ability to do better than a healthy Kwan (although Hughes could be the reincarnation of her sister).

Final note on the men: Did anyone else read Timothy Goebbels' comment upon coming in 7th?

I don't know what's wrong with me," he said, wiping tears from his eyes. Before walking off, he said: "I wasted four years of my life. I don't know what I'm going to do now.
What a heartbreak for him! I've never been a fan of his, although I did appreciate his jumping in his earlier years, which shares the same corkscrew qualities as does Cohen's when she's skating well. But still, it's hard to hear the defeat and sadness in his voice and not feel awful for him. Of course, he'll rebound. He's got a great career in professional skating should he choose to continue, and I'm sure that his celebrity will give him a nice life.

Still, as the mother of a professional dancer, it reminded me of my own fears for my daughter when she declared she wasn't going to college "right away" - ballet students who've rejected college in order to continue their ballet studies years beyond high school, but for naught (in terms of pro dancing career). It's so difficult to know whether or not to give up, isn't it?

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Still, as the mother of a professional dancer, it reminded me of my own fears for my daughter when she declared she wasn't going to college "right away" - ballet students who've rejected college in order to continue their ballet studies years beyond high school, but for naught (in terms of pro dancing career). It's so difficult to know whether or not to give up, isn't it?

And when the other path is chosen, and twenty years later, family and college major-based career in hand, she tells you "I made the wrong choice."....

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But in fact, just about ALL the costumes were really lovely. I don't usually say that.

Anything in the new rules about deducting for ugly costumes? Because the trend is definitely towards elegance and away from streetwalker.
Emily Hughes:  . . . What she also shares, though, and it's what makes me an indifferent observer, are the hunched up shoulders, especially in her jumps, and an overall awkward look to her upper body.  . .  Both Hughes dancers seem to have that awkwardness, and, to my humble taste, it's a big negative.

True enough, vagansmom, but Sarah made huge progress in correcting this flaw in the three years leading to (and including) her Olympic win. With this in mind, I see hope for Emily. It's probably time for her to find a new coach.
Speaking of lacking such inner resources, I've saved Sasha Cohen for last.

I was out yesterday afternoon and missed most of the exhibition, but I did catch Cohen. She was almost unrecognizable, for the joy and freedom she showed. Sure, the pressure was off, but wouldn't it be great if she could find that mindset during her competitions?
And then there's Kwan: well, she USED to be the most interesting female figure skater - what artistry!

Nothing wrong with Kwan that a really good program couldn't cure. When was the last time she had a program worthy of her?
Final note on the men: Did anyone else read Timothy Goebbels' comment upon coming in 7th?  . . . I've never been a fan of his . . . but still, it's hard to hear the defeat and sadness in his voice and not feel awful for him.

Hard, but not impossible. Something about Goebbel just rubs me completely the wrong way. And his future in professional skating is, as you said, very bright.

Thanks, vagansmom, for such a great post for me to bounce off of. :thanks:

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Thank you so much, vagansmom, for such wonderful, descriptive comments on the US Nationals, especially about Savoie. I am over the moon that he finally got the recognition he deserves; after a promising start, including a Grand Prix Final bronze medal at the beginning of his career, he was languishing, with middling transitions marks from the international judges and little respect from national judges. I was in Ottawa for a long weekend attending the Canadian Nationals, and after returning home late last night, am just about to start watching the TiVo files. I can't wait!

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